Research Project

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The Role of Human Factors in Cargo Tank Rollovers


To evaluate the role of human factors in cargo tank rollovers.


In the past, cargo tank rollovers were studied by the Agency and driver error was identified 78 percent of the time as the primary cause of the rollover. Little has been done in determining the causes behind the driver’s behavior that leads to these catastrophic events. A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) study reported that, “Results for injury and property damage indicated that 88.5 percent of crashes are not associated with rollover or loss of control. The odds of rollover increase as cargo weight increases, but loss of control and cargo weight appear independent. The odds of rollover were about 2.6 times greater for cargo weight in the 5,001–20,000 lb category compared to the 0–5,000 lb category. The ratio increases to 7.4 when comparing the heavy category to the light category. For loss of control, the comparative odds ratios were 0.9 and 1.0, respectively, suggesting no association between loss of control and trailer cargo weight. The odds of rollover were 2.6 times greater on ramps than in other locations, and the odds of loss of control were 2.2 times greater. Tank trailers were much more likely to roll over than van trailers. The odds ratio is approximately 3.5. For loss of control, the association was not as strong, but the odds of loss of control were 1.8 times greater for tanks compared to vans.”


The premise of this research is to study a driver’s behavior and health prior to the cargo tank rollover. Safety records, medical certificates, and driver interviews will be used to determine what outside influences contributed to the crash. Findings of the study will be used to support policies aimed at improving cargo tank safety.


A report identifying the role of human factors in cargo tank rollovers and a detailed summary of what factors and the rate at which those factors determine the risk of a crash for cargo tanks.


August 2016: Project awarded
July 2017: Project completion


FY 2016: $100,000

Current Status:

Active—Project is on schedule

Project Manager:

For more information, contact David Goettee of the Research Division at (202) 366-4097 or


Updated: Thursday, January 5, 2017
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